Tens of thousands of red, yellow, pink and blue condoms have flooded downtown Toronto. But talking about sexual pleasure is a somewhat sticky issue at the world's largest// AIDS conference.
"Fear of AIDS will not scare people into having safer sex. It will become like the anti-smoking drives which everyone ignores," Yvonne Green, an AIDS activist from South Africa says.
"We must be able to talk about sexual pleasure in public. Without it the international HIV/AIDS response is losing a very powerful tool to stem the spread of the disease," she adds.
Britain-based Pleasure Project, an educational organisation, believes that "we can have safer sex if we know how to have good sex".
"The HIV 'industry' avoids discussion of sexual desire and pleasure, while the pleasure industry avoids discussion of safer sex," a statement from the organisation said.
"At best the conventional line seems to be: Safer sex is a necessary evil - protect yourself or face the consequences," the statement added.
"In my country and religion, men and women don't talk about sex. Who knows about sexual pleasure?" said Meena Rehman, an HIV-positive, Muslim mother of two from India.
Rehman was infected by her husband, who revealed his status a few months before dying. She now works towards empowering women in her community.
"Our discussions are frank and open, because we feel we have nothing to lose. Many women say they never liked or have no interest in sex. Our culture teaches us to be guilty for feeling any desire," Rehman says.
At a conference where many discussions centre around the sexual transmission of HIV and male and female sexual behaviour, why the hesitance to talk about pleasure?
"Wanted sex, good sex and the right to enjoy sex is not something that is covered in many intervention programmes," a paper from Britain's Institute of Development Studies quoted a Namibian woma
n as saying.
"How do we expect young women to understand the importance of consensual sex and negotiating skills if education is only limited to prevention of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sex being a no-go area in many societies?"
The Pleasure Project first shook things up at the Barcelona AIDS conference in 2002, where people involved in HIV prevention work in Africa, Asia and Europe were asked to draw a vagina. The reactions ranged from shock and amusement to disgust and embarrassment.
At the 2004 Bangkok AIDS conference, the organisation hosted a discussion on introducing pleasure into sexual health programming.
"For the first time at an international AIDS conference we showed an explicit erotic film," they said.
"Discussion ranged from the importance of sexual lubricant in Asia, to how to turn young men on, and pleasurable sex after an HIV diagnosis."
"Many people commented that this was the first time that they had seen any sessions that actually mentioned pleasure and desire at any HIV conference - a shocking omission for a disease spread through often pleasurable sexual contact," the organisation says.
Their Global Mapping of Pleasure initiative is a rich resource of projects and organisations that put pleasure first in AIDS prevention, and includes groups such as Kubatsirana, an HIV/AIDS association of 56 churches in Mozambique.
The church programme includes training religious leaders and married couples to become counsellors and discuss issues such as sexual positions, gender roles and how to improve sex lives.
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